Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Its been a while

I am sorry to all of my loyal readers out there for never updating my blog!!! Or emailing for that matter. I really have no excuse but laziness, hot weather, and to many coffees.

I am doing very well. Pre-service training finished one month ago now. The month flew by and I have enjoyed living in my own apartment, which is way too nice for me. I have also enjoyed beginning to build my life for the next two years. Elbasan is a large city for Albania standards (about 120,000 people which includes the surrounding villages) and is in the center of the country so it acts as a hub for traffic going from the north to the south.

Work: I am assigned to work with the health education and promotion unit in the directory of public health in Elbasan. I work with three women (two nurses and one social worker). They have absolutely no budget to work with except for their salaries so my job is to help them come up with creative ideas to do their job of health education and promotion using no money or to help write grants for projects as well as to network and collaborate with other organizations in the city. The past couple of weeks I have been meeting lots of people and assessing the community and the resources within the community and at the office. We have given a few lessons to kindergarten classes on germs and have been planning some other lessons. Other activities I am doing is teaching life skills classes this summer to an English camp, training a couple pool boys at the local pool in first aid, CPR, and I have a friend to teach them how to safe someone who is drowning, I will hopefully be helping with health lessons and activities at a camp for Roma children and working with a couple girls on a few projects related to pollution by the factory outside of town as well as keeping the city clean. I may even be teaching a class at a nursing school this fall and might do some nursing trainings at the hospitals as well. I have also begun to tutor a few kids in English. I will continue to work toward these ideas as well as other ideas but everything is still pretty much just an idea and at the beginning stages. I know getting things done here is much more difficult than it seems. I expect many road blocks and obstacles along the way.

Free time: Other than work I am having a great time living in Elbasan. My favorite thing to do is go to the Market and to buy way too many fresh vegetables and fruits. They are so cheap right now and absolutely wonderful. I have eaten more tomatoes in the last month than I ate my whole life. And the bread stuffed with olives and cheese that I get at the bakery right by my house is also amazing.

I do a few other things for fun beside eat. I have been meeting lots of people here in Elbasan and I really like my Peace Corps site mates. There are 5 of us. Two in community development (both have been here one year), two at the university (one from my group and the other has extended for a third year) and me. It is nice to have the support of someone going through the same experience as you. Other excitements in Elbasan include a bowling alley, 3 swimming pools which I have not been to yet, a movie theater that may or may not play a movie for you if you bring a couple people (have not been to yet), the best ice cream and byrek in all of Albania and me of course. (Did this convince anyone to come and visit?)

Summer has begun here and it is fricken hot. People go to work until about 3 if they go to work at all. The summer is a holiday for most people. Many nap in the afternoon and then go for a nightly walk up and down the main street. The girls get dressed up like they are going clubbing to go walk up and down the streets. It is one of the only social activities that are accepted for girls.

Travel: We have only just been released to travel in the country on our own without special permission. We have to wait until September to travel outside of the country. PC rules!!! I have taken two trips. The first was to Vlore which is on the ocean and is beautiful. It was technically a business trip with an NGO (world vision) but we had enough beach time to call it a vacation. I also went to Tirana, the capital, for a 4th of July party at the ambassadors’ house. He was not there. He happened to be in America at the time but it is a beautiful house with a lawn. It is like a little American suburb in Albania. We had no fireworks but did have hotdogs, hamburgers, beer, apple pie, potato salad and best of all an Albanian Elvis impersonator. Yes that is right an Albanian Elvis impersonator. Nothing else really needs to be said about that.

Flowers and Fresh Fruit: The wild flowers are amazing and the roses are absolutely beautiful. I have never seen such big rose bushes with so many beautiful flowers. The smell of roses is everywhere. It almost covers the donkey poop and burning trash. The fruit trees are also amazing. They have every type of tree in the village. They have pears, walnuts, lemon, mandarin, plums, olive, peaches, oranges, figs and grape vines everywhere. My host family even has a pomegranate tree which I am incredibly excited for. I love the walks in the country to see all of the plants and trees, wild flowers, and roses.

Funny Story: I got stuck in a very small bathroom. There was no door handle on the inside and I had no way out except for the very small window high above the toilet. I barely fit through and had to go head first. Once I was hanging head first out of the window I was still about 7 feet off the ground. When I got out I felt a draft and noticed that I had ripped a very large whole in my crotch. One of the workers had to crawl back into the bathroom in order to get the bathroom door open because I had locked it from the inside and there was no way in from the outside. Apparently they knew how to open the door without a handle. I was lucky that it was not a Turkish toilet or I would not have been able to reach the window. Most restaurants and bars have Turkish toilets which some people really hate but I don’t mind them at all as long as they are somewhat clean.

Strange Story: So I was in the park the other day with another volunteer and we were talking to a little boy who was Roma. He had a sling shot and pointed to his pocket and said something that I didn’t understand. I thought that he had some rocks in his pocket for his slingshot but a minute later he sits down next to me and pulls out two small birds plucked and gutted. I was very startled and embarrassingly jumped and I am ashamed to admit that I may have screamed like a little girl for a split second. He then proceeds to try to sell us the birds for 20 lek as he builds a fire in the middle of the park with newspaper and card board to cook the birds in. All the while he is talking, dancing, and singing. A very happy boy who is excited to eat what is probably his first meal of the day. After he is finished cooking the birds he lights a half smoked cigarette (keep in mind the boy told us he was 13 but he look more like 9 or 10). Throughout all this he remains dancing and singing. He devoured the birds but stopped to offer to give us the little breast piece that I think would be the best part of the bird. Very generous for a boy who had nothing. He told us that he has 5 brothers, no parents and sleeps in the park. This was an amazing experience for me to this small boy surviving on his own but most of all to see his attitude while he was doing it. I have been given so much in my life and anytime I complain about anything I will think about this little boy dancing and cooking his two birds that he shot with a sling shot with newspaper in the park. In the end we thanked him for the offer of the bird but declined and I gave him 100 Lek to buy dinner with. I wish I could do more for the poor children. It is something to work toward while I am here.

The Furgon Drivers: our mode of transportation is the bus and the furgon. The furgon is a van that is driven by a crazy driver. There are no bus stops you stand on the side of the road and wait for something to pass then you flag down the bus or furgon and get in and hope you survive the ride. Dangers include being thrown up on by other passengers or throwing up yourself, the furgon flying off the road, and hitting an on-coming car or pedestrian while passing a donkey pulled wagon full of hay on a mountain road. Buses are a lot safer. In both, you get to listen to Albanian popular music way to loud.

Cultural notes:

  • Albanians discuss very loud and enthusiastically using many gestures, they shake their heads opposite of us for yes and no, and shake their fingers and “tisk” to say no. I had to get used to having my 6 year old sister shake her finger at me.
  • In the village I got at least one rose daily from the sweetest little girls in the world. They love to hug and kiss you. My 6 year old host sister gets a little upset when the other girls want to hug me. She says that I am her sister. The boys are boys. They are sweet some of the time.
  • Boys and girls do not socialize often especially in the village. They go to school until 1 pm and then go home and work in the garden or house and play with their friends.
  • Most people say that they are either orthodox or Muslim however few people go to church or practice their religion. But on Easter the whole village of Shtermen went to the Orthodox church beginning around 9 pm no matter if were Muslim or Orthodox. They stayed until about 2 am just socializing. The priest was doing some things and talking quite a bit but no one was listening or caring what he was saying. The young people are not out after dark especially girls and boys together so this was a night where it was sociably acceptable to socialize after dark in public. It is nice that one day a year they can be out after dark in the village. Many things are different in the city than they are in the villages.
  • Turkish coffee and raki are everywhere
  • Unique sense of fashion and style (dad will fit in great here, mom you better have dad go shopping for you for some tight jeans and high heels)
  • The main form of entertainment is the nightly walk down town. Many cities close off a street and everyone comes out and walks around looking their finest.

That is all I got for now. Email with any questions if you actually finished this post without falling asleep and just can’t wait to hear more! I love emails. I also have an address that I can receive letters and packages from so don’t be shy if you feel inclined. Thanks to everyone for your support on thoughts. I love you lots and want to here how you are all doing as well.

With lots of love Maggie

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Elbasan is my new home!!!

Dear All,

After one month living in the country I found out that I will be living in Elbasan for two years, which is the city that the training is taking place. Currently I am living in a village 40 minutes outside of the city but go into to Elbasan once or twice a week to meet with the entire training group and have technical training. This is the opposite life-style that I had imagined when I signed up for the Peace Corps. I had imagined living in a mud hut in a remote village teaching basic health issue to the villagers. Well here I am in Albania in the Mediterranean where I will be living in a city of 120,000 people with running water and electricity most of the day, working at the institute of public health. Our job is not to just deliver the health education but facilitate the health care workers in designing and implementing health education activities.

Currently in training my site mates and I are working on preparing health lessons for the 8th grade and kindergarten classes as well as a community lesson and a community project, all the while taking language lessons and trying to learn the language and culture. It is pretty busy but it has been fun.

I am very happy in my placement even though it is nothing like I had imagined. I began the process by leaving it up to fate. There is something so exciting about relinquishing all control over your future to the hands of a federal organization. I did not request a region or country to be placed in or where I would like to be placed within Albania. I would have loved to be in the middle of no where but this is going to give me an incredible experience for my future work. I am going to be doing exactly what I am interested in doing in future jobs plus the added challenge of working cross-culturally and in a different language away from any support from family or familiarity. I will be exposed to NGOs such as World Vision and build connections with them. I will also learn much about public health in the real world or at least in Albania’s world and get experience in completing health campaigns, working with vulnerable populations and with sensitive topics. I know there are many challenges I will be faced with and I will have to work hard to prove myself to my co-workers as well as to myself. Although I will not be physically challenged as I had imagined I think that this will be an extremely mentally challenging experience. I am excited to get started. Wish me luck!!!!

Love you all,
Maggie

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Two Weeks In

A lot has happened in the two weeks that I have been in Albania. I am living a village of 3,000 people called Stermen. It has a grade school, post office that I have yet to see open, a health center which closes at 1 pm, an ostridge farm, and lots of cafĂ©’s with no one in them.

I will begin with my host family that I love dearly. My host sisters are the sweetest girls ever and are full of hugs, smiles, and laughs. I love all three things so we get along great. The oldest is Migena who is 16 and is called Megi for short. She speaks pretty good English so we communicate very well. This is not the case with most of the other volunteers who are with families who do not speak any English at all. Not many people here speak English expect some of the younger people who have taken it in school. Little boys will yell out as we walk by “what is your name” or “James Bond” or any word that they know in English. The middle girl Matilda is 12 and is also very sweet. The youngest daughter is 6 and is incredibly cute and runs to give me a hug whenever I come home and holds my hand when we walk. She talks and talks and can eats more than the whole family combined yet is a tiny little thing. The mother is a housewife and the father is a carpenter. He is a good guy but the daughters wait on him hand and foot.

All that I heard about hospitality and them loving Americans is true. They are shy in the beginning but as soon as you say “Mire dita, sie jeni?” they invite you into their homes for coffee. They serve Turkish coffee which is in a tiny cup and has the grounds in it still and lots of sugar. Then they offer you a candy or cookie. It has been this way at each house we go to.

Life in general in Albania is much simpler than in the US. Every home here has chickens. They are everywhere running around the streets and in people’s yards. We have fresh eggs and they buy milk from a family down the road that has a cow. I am getting used to whole milk.

One of the things I enjoy most about living here is waking up in the morning to the rooster and birds and the occasional moo from the cow next door. There are donkeys, cows, horses, chickens, and sheep everywhere. Many people still ride in a horse or donkey pulled cart and there are herds of sheep grazing all over and people walking their cows.

The language learning is going slow but everyday I feel a little more comfortable with speaking it and take advantage of small achievements such as ordering lunch at a restaurant or finding my way to Elbasan by bus or having a conversation with a neighbor. I am surprised how much I have learned in just two weeks.

This is a beautiful country. The hills and the mountains, the little villages with animals roaming, and the people are all beautiful. However, you have to overlook the trash on the ground and in the rivers. It is really bad and I don’t know if there are any landfills or anything in the country to properly dispose of the waste. As Albania continues to develop their will be more and more trash. At this time people in the villages do not generate much trash because they do not buy packaged food and junk that they do not need which ends up breaking or just being thrown away like Americans. However the garbage they do make is thrown in the river, lakes or where ever they are at the moment. The infrastructures are extremely weak including the health, education, and economy. It is extremely hard to find jobs in Albania. Few women work even if they are college educated and most families have at least one person in Italy or Greece working and sending money home.

I hope you are doing well. Thanks for the notes. They are nice to read.

Love Maggie

Friday, 14 March 2008

Goodbye and I love you

Mire dita,

I leave on Sunday for ALBANIA!!!! I could not be more excited. People always ask if I am scared or nervous but for some strange reason I feel neither yet. On Sunday I go to Philadelphia where I will meet up with the other 38 health volunteers in my group. We will spend two days in Philadelphia and then it is on to Elbasan, Albania where I will be living for the next 3 months of training. When the 3 month training is complete, let’s hope I can speak enough Albanian where I can at least find the bathrooms, I will move yet again to the site where I will be living for the next two years.

Please keep in touch; I will try to bother you all enough so that you will not forget me.

Mirupafshim

Love Maggie

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

This is a practice post.